“Gaining access is the process that unlocks the path to information not otherwise available” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 115). Accessing techniques and mindfulness are used in helping a client shift “from ordinary consciousness to mindfulness” or to the child state of consciousness (p. 115). In special or altered states of consciousness like mindfulness, the therapy process deepens by accessing core material, such as “beliefs, habits and memories that motivate and organize the client’s reactions” (p. 115). This material is not accessible within ordinary consciousness.
There are numerous ways to access altered states of consciousness, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, hypnosis, music and so on. Mindfulness is a way of focusing “on internal signals while lowering the noise” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 117). It includes a state of relaxation and involves removing outer or inner distractions that people ordinarily use as ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings (Kurtz, 1990, p. 166). Mindfulness is a present-moment experience as one cannot be mindful of the past or future. It involves shifting one’s attention away from a superficial discussion of one’s experience to a direct exploration of the present-time experience.
“The mindful qualities of slowing down, letting go of agendas, becoming open, receptive, exploratory, and befriending experience, as opposed to changing it, allow us to be present to immediate, felt experience in a way that opens a place of mysterious not-knowing, making the discovery of new material possible (Gaskin, Cole & Eisman, 2015, p. 163-164). To help people heal requires assisting them in entering one of these altered, special states. Once that state is accessed, then the client can process whatever comes up for them. Through mindfulness or accessing the witness state, they can notice how they are being impacted by what comes up for them. (Kurtz, 1990)
There are four principles related to accessing: safety, present experience, going slow, and nonviolence.
It is essential to hold a safe space for whoever one is working with. If a client doesn’t feel safe, then they won’t drop their external awareness. They won’t be trusting enough to go within. If accessing is a challenge for someone then asking them what needs to happen in order for them to feel safe could be helpful. Also, letting go of any need to get any particular response from a client is a requirement for the therapist. It is crucial to be accepting, loving and nonjudgmental. Clients do not need techniques that are insulting or deliberately create pain; they already have enough pain to deal with (Kurtz, 1990).
Present time experience
Present time experience is the second principle of accessing. This means helping a client to experience core material as a “felt reality, not as theory” (p. 119). Felt reality includes feelings, thoughts, moods and muscle tension as they are experienced right now.
It is important for the therapist to avoid following a client’s tendency to tell stories about their past, theorize and so on. The clinician needs to step out of the mode of polite, ordinary conversation, even if it seems interesting, and bring the client back to their concrete, present-time experience. This could involve asking for precise information regarding what is happening in the now. “For example, if someone says she’s sad, don’t ask what the sadness is about” as that leads to explanations but rather ask “‘What kind of sadness is it!’” (p. 119). This way, a client can go right back into her sadness more deeply and “with that search comes memories and finally, beliefs” (p. 119). “If the client is sad, we want her to feel that grief deeply, purely, attentively” (Gaskin, Cole & Eisman, 2015, p. 168). In nearly any moment, a clinician can ask a question that will redirect a client toward her present experience. The clinician will become “a psychological Aikido master” whenever they can take anything a client does or says and bring it back to present experience (Kurtz, 1990, p. 119).
Awareness happens for the client at a slower speed. It’s important for the therapist to ask for information with sensitivity and respect, in ways that convey to a client that there is plenty of time. When the therapist slows down then they invite the client to go slow. “The tone of voice, the speed at which you talk, the gentleness with which you move” says to a client that it is safe for them to take their time and go within (Kurtz, 1990, p. 120).
Nonviolence involves working gently with kindness and compassion, avoiding triggering defenses. If the client doesn’t feel entirely safe, then they will leave their inward experience and go outward to deal with the therapist. There are many, often subtler, levels of violence in psychotherapy including judgements, advice, plans, exclusivity and arrogance, all of which will trigger the defenses of a client. Being more inclusive and empowering the client to go wherever they need to go with their process, without feeling compelled to change them, helps provide them with the kind of support and acceptance they need (Kurtz, 1990).
During this whole accessing process, it is important to track the client’s signals regarding where they want to go and to make contact via contact statements (Kurtz, 1990). Additionally, the client’s body language, such as their tone of voice, rapidity of breath, facial expressions and key words, can reveal their core narrative traits (Kurtz & Prestera, 1984).
Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015). Accessing and Deepening. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 295-299). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.
Kurtz, R. S. & Prestera, H. (1984). The Body Reveals. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.